Orderly recovery of outbound tourism boosts global confidence in Chinese economy

After a three-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, China's outbound group tour has pressed the "restart button."

After a three-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, China's outbound group tour has pressed the "restart button," and the first batch of Chinese tourists have arrived in, among others, Thailand, Cambodia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Starting February 6, travel agencies and online tourism service providers in China have been permitted to provide group tours of 20 countries, and relevant airline ticket and hotel booking services have been resumed as well.

The orderly and rapid recovery of China's outbound group travels shows the vitality and potential of China's economy, which will help revitalize the global tourism market and boost consumption in tourist destinations and overall economic growth prospects. With the optimization of the epidemic control measures, China's economic growth potential has been further released, injecting more confidence into the global economic recovery.

Faster-than-expected rebound

A flight of China Air landed at Geneva International Airport Thursday, marking the resumption of the direct flights between Beijing and Geneva in Switzerland after the optimization of the epidemic control measures.

"We are very happy to have Chinese people back in Geneva. Chinese tourists are very important to Switzerland," said Claude Membrez, board member of the Geneva Tourism and Conventions Association.

Data from travel platforms showed a dramatic rise in consultations and reservations for the overseas travels, as China resumed cross-border group travels.

"I'm so happy and excited to be back ... We can feel the hospitality and warm welcome of Thai people," said Tan Mingyuan, a 43-year-old tour guide leading a group of Chinese visitors to Thailand.

Tan, a veteran tourism practitioner of over 20 years, said Thailand has always been one of the most popular destinations for Chinese travelers, expecting a "substantial increase" in the number of Chinese tourists to Thailand this year.

"Thailand is honored to be among the 20 countries chosen to once again welcome tour groups from China. We look forward to seeing many more to come," said Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Liu Ning, president of Shanghai Jinjiang Tours Co Ltd, said the Middle East is also a promising tourist destination for Chinese as the Qatar World Cup drew much attention to the region, and the deepening economic ties between China and Middle East add to the momentum.

A survey by qyer.com, an online platform for self-guided tours, showed that more than 90 percent of respondents plan to travel abroad within a year, with about a quarter scheduling a trip within six months.

Chinese outbound tourism will embrace a faster-than-expected revival this year, driven by an increasing confidence following the rapid market rebound, said Peng Han, director of the strategic research center of the Ctrip Research Institute.

VIP service

The first tour groups from China was greeted with flowers and a warm welcome Monday in Bangkok, Thailand, a Southeast Asian country betting on tourists' return to boost its vital tourism sector.

The Bank of Thailand, the central bank, said last month that Thailand's tourism sector will exhibit a faster recovery following the return of Chinese tourists and that the Thai economy will thereby gain traction with continued recovery in tourism and private consumption.

Underscoring the importance of Chinese tourists to Thailand's tourism sector, which accounts for up to one-fifth of Thailand's GDP, Yuthasak said, "our thanks go to China, the Chinese tour operators and the Chinese tourists themselves for their continued confidence in Thailand as a preferred holiday destination."

Yuthasak said the TAT has set a target of receiving at least 7 million Chinese tourists this year.

Air China flight CA745, carrying some 125 Chinese tourists, arrived at the Phnom Penh International Airport from Beijing on Tuesday, receiving a warm welcome from Cambodia's Tourism Minister Thong Khon and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian and other officials.

Khon told reporters that China is the most important outbound tourism market for the world and the comeback of Chinese tourists has given a boost not only to the tourism sector, but also to the kingdom's economy.

Jean-Vital Domezon, president of Geneva Hotels Association, said they could not wait to welcome Chinese tourists back.

"We can't wait to see the plane full and we are ready to greet them. This is really important for hotel business," Domezon said.

A red carpet reception welcomed on Tuesday the first group of 60 Chinese tourists in Abu Dhabi. Waving the national flags of China and the UAE, the Chinese tourists were warmly welcomed at the airport and provided with smooth check-in services. They also received commemorative gifts and special privileges at the theme park Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

"We are so excited to welcome our very first Chinese guests for the first time after three years. We cannot wait to welcome you all back to our beautiful park. We have missed you," said Deana Taylor, general manager at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

Great potential

China's outbound tourism is picking up rapidly, injecting confidence and impetus into the global tourism industry and economic recovery.

At this year's ASEAN Tourism Forum, ASEAN countries were eagerly looking forward to the return of Chinese tourists. Indonesian Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno said that after China restarts outbound travel, the tourism industry in ASEAN will recover strongly.

The World Tourism Organization projected that international tourist arrivals could reach 80 to 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2023 (compared with 63 percent in 2022) despite lingering global headwinds.

In an update to its World Economic Outlook report released late January, the IMF projected China's economy would grow by 5.2 percent in 2023, 0.8 percentage points higher than the October 2022 forecast, driven by a rebound in private consumption.

Thomas Helbling, deputy director of the IMF's Asia and Pacific Department, said that China's higher growth in the next two years will "make a big difference" in services, tourism and aviation, among other sectors of the global economy.

The IMF official said China's rebound and strong recovery would be a plus for Asia, including a positive spillover for some commodity exporters, as the IMF expects some increase in energy demand.

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